I slammed my apartment’s door behind me and rushed down the stairwell. I was late. Late, late, late.
As I descended I nearly tripped, my right foot awkwardly slamming into an unexpected empty space that wasn’t supposed to be there. I rubbed my injured eg. The staircase leading out of the building had more steps than I expected it to! Annoying. G-damn landlords are always renovating the entrance.
The city greeted me with myriads of flickering windows and blinding billboard adverts that flashed holographic figures offering all sorts of wondrous products, which I couldn't afford.
I hopped on one foot towards the street vendor. The local vendor was an unconnectable like me. I smiled. He smiled back at me, nodding. Us unconnectables shared a mutual understanding. We were brothers in arms, in our joint struggle against the unjust system that oppressed us at every turn.
“One hotdog please with extra mayo!”
“That’ll be 3k.” The vendor offered me his wrist.
“Damn it! Another price increase?” I whined, hovering my credit ring over his wrist bracelet.
“Such is life. Everything is more.” The vendor sighed. The ring refused to connect. “Turn it sideways. Try again. Here, lemme do it.”
He grabbed my ring finger, gently circling it against his wrist. “There’s a trick to it, see?”
This was far more awkward than it should have been. The magnetic strip within the ring must have worn out, again. Argh! I really needed to visit the bank to get a new credit ring, but I was late and I wasn’t sure they even had rings in stock. The things were “backwards compatible” and supposedly “rare items under special order”. It always took forever to get a new one.
I stuffed the hot dog into my mouth, rushing down the platform. “Stay clear of the doors. The doors are closing” the train loudspeaker announced. I dashed forward, jumping into the innards of the maglev just as the doors snapped shut.
“Phew. That was close.” I panted. There was only one other passenger inside this train car. He stared at me as the blue lights of the Neural Interface blinked on his head from beneath a wide brim hat. “Yes. I am using words. Words!” I nodded at him. He ignored me as most connectable people do. Maybe he wrote me a mind text, but it’s not like I could see it. I shut my mouth. Words cost money. It wasn't a lot of money, but being a chatterbug was a definite no.
I only could afford a bit of talking. I've served as an office clerk for The GOOD Directorate Corporation for many years and while my salary had once been acceptable, prices have been steadily increasing. Inflation was a bitch. Corporate greed was rampant.
The G-Directorate had been collecting patents and copyrighting everything from programs and inventions to drugs, everything they could get their dirty lawyers' hands on, including even basic human needs and concepts like speech. The copyright laws were extended first by twenty years, then a hundred and then to infinite perpetuity. Once the Directorate copyrighted sleep, there was no stopping them.
The troubles started when the Directorate activated project ANNET - a Neural Network that could connect the human mind to the Internet, allowing users to browse the net constantly, using eye blinks and thoughts to get information about any product, play games or even watch movies in their sleep. Can you imagine three billion people connected to the net all the time? That was just the beginning. Everyday, more people joined the network.
“HAPPINESS IN PERPETUITY! YOUR UNBOUND, TRUE LOVE IS WAITING FOR YOU! INFINITY IS HERE! ONLY...” A holo flashed from the city as the train passed by it. I winced at its idiotic, marketing nonsense keywords.
We thought we could save the world with information, but since this information came mostly from entertainment companies and corporations the most important things were simply filtered, ignored or lost amidst yottabytes of pop culture garbage.
At first the Neural Interfaces were simple blue head-bands, but with increasing technological advances they became smaller and eventually were almost unnecessary as the directorate started to broadcast the net at the same frequency as the electrical impulses that compose our thoughts. Anyway, I might be screwing up the technological side of the story as I am not a designer or programmer.
As I was one of the unfortunate human beings alive not able to connect to ANNET via the Neural Network interface, I remained trapped in a dead-end job.
I was entirely unable to browse the net with my thoughts and was unable to afford sleep, scraping by in a tiny apartment unit for the unconnectable population.
As I contemplated my sorry state of affairs, the maglev arrived at a junction station. As the doors opened a massive crowd began to silently pack themselves in. They kept on until the train was crammed to the brim with people like a can of sardines. I found myself assaulted from all sides, the smell of sweat, deodorant and perfume punching me in the nose. Elbows, knees and bags attacked me. I tried to fight them off but it was hopeless. They boxed me into the depths of the train, the current of people dragging me left and right. I was adrift in the crowd, until there was no space left for moving. I closed my eyes, praying for mercy. This was a terrible idea in hindsight, because in my tired state, I had instantly fallen asleep upright, supported only by the pressure of the crowd.
A dream formed itself in my mind. One of flesh and horror. I was trapped, being eaten alive, amidst numerous other fleshy corpses. I tried to claw my way out of the ocean of flesh. A truly nasty monstrosity was in front of me. The thing had many faces and there were faces within its faces. Its tentacles were everywhere, some of them wiggling out of my chest. I grabbed at the tentacles, trying to fight them off. It was no good.
“Do you mind?” A voice brought me back to reality.
“Wuh?” I blinked the nightmare away. My hands weren't clawing into rotting flesh. They were holding onto something soft and round? The maglev rumbled. The crowd pushed. I found myself holding tightly onto someone. It was a girl. There was a girl in front of me, wearing a black and white G-employee uniform and I was pressed into her back with my hands wrapped around her. My fingers were digging into her body. Crap. Crap. Crap. I instantly let go of her, but was unable to back away from her.
“I’m not a perv! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to grab you!” I uttered, my voice shaking.
“Riiiiiiiiight." Her voice resonated, jet black hair shimmering in the blue light of the maglev interior. "This isn't a set of a sleazy Japanese film."
She had a voice! She was unconnectable too!
"I feel asleep and I uhhh…" I tried to rationalize my actions.
"Save it for the space lawyers, perv."
Crap. I tried to shrink away from her, but the crowd left me no escape. My jacket zipper caught onto someone's suitcase.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to…" I stammered.
"Now arriving at Cube 15. Cube 15 station. Doors are opening." The speakers coughed.
The crowd current began to shift, many leaving the train, while others clung to their seats and handlebars.
"Please forgive meee!" I yelled as the crowd dragged me out of the train by my zipper. She was gone. I was too afraid to check my ring's balance. An assault charge was likely there already.
I wobbled towards my office, my face red in embarrassment and shame. Many other souls like myself were shambling from the train station towards Cube 15. The cube megastructure loomed over other city skyscrapers, an alien, leviathan construct of black hexagonal-textured steel, a symbol of pure hell on earth. Modern architecture gave me the willies.
“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” I whispered as I passed beneath the doorway.
The security gate buzzed angrily as it failed to scan me and my ring. A security guard came out of his glass office, giving me the usual look.
“Yes I know. I need to get my ring replaced. It’s old.” I sighed as he wiggled my hand within the scanner box. A crowd of people was already gathering behind me. They weren’t saying anything but I knew that they were m-talking about me. I was delaying their entry. Time was money.
The gate finally dinged, turning green. I rushed into it, fleeing from the angry glares of the crowd.
A series of elevators and I was finally in my office. It was an open concept room, with numerous L-shaped desks. They promised me a cubicle soon! Then I’d have at least a semblance of privacy.
The enormous wall-sized tv behind me was broadcasting Dead Zone stats. I didn’t care for them. I knew things were bad and getting worse everyday.
In the test area on my left someone was throwing cakes around.
What will they come up with next?
I didn't pay much attention to the test, as my tiredness was catching up with me.
Something was nagging at me at the back of my head. Something the girl on the train had said that sounded off, wrong. I couldn't remember now. It didn’t matter. I had work to focus on. Boring ass work.
My eyes were closing.
Paperwork was getting excessively boring.
Must stay awake.
First 3 frames painted by Grimhel: http://grimhel.deviantart.com/
Rest by alexiuss: http://alexiuss.deviantart.com/
2nd December 2011